A Case for Using Augury in Dungeons and Dragons

My kids drawing omikuji fortune “sticks” from a cylinder at Sensoji temple in Tokyo, Japan in 2016. The numbers written on the sticks correspond to the cabinets, where one can find their fortune.

I recently enjoyed a great video by Zee Bashew about the spell of Augury in Dungeons and Dragons:

My main Adventurer’s League character, Fenmaer Wasanthi, does use Augury from time to time, and it’s been fun, though because it’s a low-level divination spell its benefits are limited. In spite of Zee Bashew’s criticism, I think it’s still a worthwhile spell to use if you keep your expectations low. But let’s cover the spell a bit in more detail first.

The spell, as written, takes one minute to cast, or 11 minutes if cast as a ritual. You must have 25gp worth of augury “tools” that function as a recurring spell component, but the Player’s Handbook is intentionally vague about what those tools would look like. This provides a fun role-playing aspect for your character as you get to decide what those look like. For my elven forge cleric, I go with the “smithy” theme of using metal sticks (similar to the metal chopsticks used in Korean cuisine), with gold filigree, gems encrusted, etc. Since this is a spell component you can re-use, but is required for the spell, it’s a one-time cost of 25gp which you can keep reusing over and over. In my character’s DnD Beyond character sheet, I just note such spell components like so under “Other Possessions”:

Fenmaer’s DnD Beyond character sheet inventory. At 9th level, he now has access to a number of more powerful spells, but has to track their spell components too.

In any case, once the spell is employed, you can inquire about a specific action you plan to undertake in the next 30 minutes. The DM, the proverbial “god of the universe”, is then obligated to answer with one of the following omens:

  • Weal, for good results
  • Woe, for bad results
  • Weal and woe, for both good and bad results
  • Nothing, for results that aren’t especially good or bad
Here’s me drawing a bad fortune (凶, shown upper right) at the branch temple of Toyokawa Inari in Tokyo in 2018.

The spell also clarifies that if any circumstances change the situation between now and then, the spell can’t anticipate that, so it’s based purely on the current situation and how that will impact your subsequent choice.

Depending on when it’s used, Augury can be straightforward for a DM to answer, or really tough.

Imagine an adventuring party is in a dungeon, and confronted with a couple doors. The party is unclear which door to go through, and are in pretty wrecked shape already, so they would like to avoid further disaster. This is a case where the Augury spell can help tip the decision one way or another, by inquiring what happens when the party goes through a particular door. Of course, if they want to know about both doors, it would have to be cast twice (22 minutes at worst).1 Here we see a specific course of actions the party can take, and opening a particular door can lead to danger (woe), treasure (weal), an empty door (nothing) or danger + treasure (weal and woe).

On the other hand if the party wants to talk to such and such person and maybe ask for help, the Augury spell in this case would be harder for a DM to respond to. Predicting social interaction is hard because it depends in large part on how the players choose to carry the discussion, plus randomness associated with any Charisma checks and so on. Unless the other party has some clear intention toward the party, anything is possible. Another example would be using Augury to predict breaking in to a castle will work or not. There’s a lot of factors at play, and it’s too broad for the Augury spell to provide a specific answer to a specific action. Your DM would rightly push back here and say that the scope of the spell doesn’t cover something like this.

Thus we get to when Augury works and when it doesn’t. Augury is basically meant to detect upcoming danger (or benefit) based on one intended action (open door, get item, drink potion, take this road not that one, etc). As a mere 2nd level spell, it doesn’t have the power of something like Divination, but provides a quick-and-dirty “read” of the situation.

If properly employed for what it was meant to do, your DM will thank you for not putting them on the spot for unreasonable inquiries about the future. 😃

1 Of course, each time you use it after the first during a day increases teh risk of getting an inaccurate, random reading anyway, so choose wisely.

Published by Doug

🎵Toss a coin to your Buddhist-Philhellenic-D&D-playing-Japanese-studying-dad-joke-telling-Trekker, O Valley of Plentyyy!🎵He/him

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